Wild Turkeys and Christmas Cactus

About 7 a.m. this morning before the sun poked above the clouds on the horizon, I saw a flock of turkeys in the field next to our house. I know…not really wild herb material, but hey, what’s blooming now besides the Christmas cactus indoors?

I had gone out to the porch to see if I could see any deer in the field as the light was still pretty dim. A light fog made the trees and everything else take on shades of grey.

Wild turkeys in the early morning light.

Wild turkeys in the early morning light.

The first day of hunting season — shotgun for whitetail deer in Pennsylvania — was yesterday. We heard the booming around us from all directions. Didn’t hear on the news how many does or bucks were taken, but by the sound of it I would say there are quite a few less roaming the hillsides. While raking leaves yesterday I played it safe and wore an orange vest.

This morning’s flock was about half the size of what I had witnessed last evening from about 4 p.m. to sunset an hour later.

Corn was harvested some weeks ago from the field that is now green with grass. Spotting wild turkeys there is rather easy as their bronze and black feathers stand out against the green of the grass and besides, they are really huge birds!

The slope of the field rises up to a high spot in the middle. We have a great view from the second floor bathroom windows and also the attic window on the east side of the house.

There are many trees between the house and the field that interfered with counting the birds. At first I only saw 12 or 15 turkeys. I recounted…18, 23, 17…but wait — as I continued to watch and count another group of birds walked toward me as they crested the center of the field…25, 33, 40 turkeys in all!

The field is probably 4-5 acres in size and is surrounded by oak trees on all sides. The turkeys have a short distance to run or fly into the tree cover if something startles them. I’m sure they eat plenty of acorns as well.

As I watched this grouping of Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, in the evening I was surprised by their degree of social behavior. They walked along and sometimes scurried to find an unoccupied spot as they grazed the grass for insects or seeds and any bits of leftover grain. As they fed they constantly peeped to one another and there was a great deal of this talking back and forth.

When too many birds were concentrated together a squabble would erupt with wings flapping and much squawking. Two young birds would face off, flap their wings, jump in the air and throw their feet out at each other. The other turkeys stood there and voiced their opinions as if they were rooting on their favorite boxer to win the match. This foot-fighting would only go for one or two rounds and then everyone went back to grazing in their own direction.

The young birds were easily spotted as they were skinny in comparison to others in the flock and their feathers were a lighter color, more of a sandy brown than the black, iridescent color of the older birds.

The male gobblers were most impressive. I saw 2 very large males, perhaps there are two flocks that share this field, each one led by the largest male. I didn’t see the males display in the evening, but this morning one fanned out his tail and puffed up his body to full size. Was he the grand-daddy of them all? A few gobbles let all the hens and jakes know that he was in charge of his flock.

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and since turkey is traditionally at the center of the feast I thought it only fitting to let everyone know that the wild turkey is alive and doing quite well in the eastern United States.

Oh, and that Christmas cactus? It’s blooming in all its glory!

Christmas cactus blooms pink and white.
Christmas cactus blooms pink and white.

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